Alan’s Anecdotes

Alan’s Anecdotes

This is an understatement: ‘Alan Fletcher’s humour was special.’

So I decided to invite him to come up with a few special memories, brief articles and messages he had sent to AGI friends or received from them. He sent me quite a collection. I had to make choices, but unfortunately could no longer let him know which.

Ben Bos


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Bob Gill, Alan Fletcher and Colin Forbes, photographed for Vogue by Robert Freeman, 1962.


Thus spoke the Gypsy

Bob, Colin and myself were constantly discussing whether the three of us should set up together or not. When two agreed, the third didn’t, and so on. At one point Colin and I were for it and Bob was doubt­ful. In any event Bob went to Brighton for the weekend with a girl. It was not a success.On Sunday morning, desperate for something to do, he took her for a walk on Brighton Pier and, passing a fortune-teller, sent her inside. When she came out, he asked her how it was. ‘Amazing,’ she said. Bob went in and the gypsy immediately said ‘I see you surrounded by paper.’ Bob was impressed. Then she said ‘I see a document – sign it as soon as possible.’ Bob ran out, grabbed the girl’s arm and immediately took the train back to London. He banged on my door on Sunday evening, we called Colin on the phone and met on Monday to sign the formation of Fletcher Forbes Gill. We opened for business on April Fool’s Day 1962!

Alan Fletcher


The Envelope

I like mucking around with old bits and pieces of graphic print. This assembly, done some years ago, is meant to be the head of a rooster, one of the characters in the Chinese calendar. The coxcomb, the wobbly red bit on the head and neck, is conveyed by ‘urgent’ stickers, the vocalizing (cockadoodledoo!) beak by a rail ticket reservation, and the neck and face with an airmail envelope. A letter from André François, I meant to ask him if he was agreeable to my using his envelope as part of my cockerel. But you know how it goes – the deadline arrived, the printer needed the picture, and I never got round to asking. Then it was printed and I was going to send André a copy but thought maybe he wouldn’t like it. I chickened out. Now, like a lot of things I should have done, I’m too late. Well, not quite. Thank you, André.

Alan Fletcher, London, 2006


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Pericolo massima

At a formal gathering of notables and designers in Japan, I was told the delicacy in a small bowl placed before me was extremely rare. No doubt it was also diabolically pricey. You were meant to swallow it. An appreciative inspection disclosed a glutinous mobile mustard-coloured substance, embracing a pulsating malevolent purple blob. Expectantly watched by my hosts I conjured up an enthusiastic smile, and quickly knocked it back. I survived. A year later I attended the same function, but this time with Massimo Vignelli. The identical dish arrived. Massimo politely smiled, nodded and bowed, but omitted to take a close look. As he was raising the bowl I whispered the bad news in his ear. As previously, the hosts were attentively watching; he blanched, but kept going. He’s still not forgiven me.

Alan Fletcher


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One Third

So they did join forces and established Fletcher Forbes Gill, in a need for alphabetical order. One day, the three of them passed a speaker on a soapbox. He was an old friend of Oswald Mosley, the British fascist leader. The man shouted his alarming message at the crowd: ‘One third of all companies are owned by Jews! One third!’ Bob walked back to the man and reacted: ‘Right you are!’

(Bob told me this story at the Fletcher’s home, on the evening when family and friends celebrated Alan’s life. – Ben Bos)

The Five-Year-Old Comet: Fukuda

Shigeo Fukuda is five years old – maybe six. He has the innocent eye, the enthusiasm, the curiosity and the creativity of a child who imagines randomly and makes improbable analogies.Fukuda is a mirage. The power of optical illusions lies in their untranslated immediacy. They can be artificially contrived like ‘Pepper’s Ghost’, a Victorian stage effect of smoke and mirrors, which created an appearance of reality that completely convinced audiences. They can be a natural phenomenon like the Fata Morgana, a mirage often seen in the Straits of Messina (Italy) when ships, oases and cities are seen suspended in the sky, right side up or upside down. They can also be figments of imagination. However there are no illusions that fool us all of the time, or even most of it – because if there were, they would be a reality. With Shigeo they probably are. Shigeo Fukuda is a dreamer. The creation of illusions is not necessarily deception, it can be an expression of man’s fundamental creative principle to change the world along the lines of his dreams. Whereas it is the obligation of the scientist to correct error, it is the role of the artist to court illusion. In other words, to manipulate our perceptions to see the world in a new way.Shigeo Fukuda is a doughnut. He uses shapes to shape other shapes. Shapes enable the eye to distinguish objects within space or areas in a pattern. They can also exist independently, in a visual vacuum as it were, like the letters on this page. Although we have the option to see the doughnut or the hole we usually settle for the doughnut. However, the bit we don’t usually look at is just as relevant as the bit we do. One cannot exist without the other.Shigeo Fukuda may be Jules Verne. He not only travels to strange and exotic places in his mind, he also pops up in random places around the world. I’ve seen him searching through stalls in Hong Kong, rocking and rolling at the top of the CN Tower in Toronto, coping with raclette in Paris, photographing trompe-l’oeils in Florence, wearing funny hats in Toyama, lecturing without words in London. Looking, observing, absorbing and giggling with excitement everywhere.Shigeo Fukuda is a design. He sports jumpers embroidered with bow ties and cameras. Unique shirts assembled from other shirts – collages with sleeves, cuffs, collars, fronts and backs. He wears sartorial combinations garnered on his travels from boutiques, street markets and department stores. He probably buys his shoelaces in Tokyo. Shigeo Fukuda is a star in the design firmament – on second thoughts maybe he’s more of a comet.

Alan Fletcher


A Caesar

It wasn’t that long ago. An effusive sun drenched the patios in the wide vicinity of Alan’s brand-new studio in the back garden of their house in The Mews. The entire population of Notting Hill was sipping its prosecco. The Porsches and such like cruised slowly by in procession, purring gently. Even Alan’s vast repertoire of neighbourhood lunch venues fell short on an afternoon like this.We ended up in a slightly strangely decorated restaurant, jam-packed with a collection of curios, but sparsely populated. The menu proposed a salmon omelette for my other half and Alan Fletcher and I fraternally plumped for the Caesar salad. The omelette arrived reasonably quickly and Elly wasted no time in tucking in. The salad took somewhat longer and, when it finally materialized, turned out to consist of a generous abundance of greenery. There the recipe stopped. Not a single drop of dressing, no croutons, no Parmesan. Alan was an amiable man, but not at that moment. He firmly and justifiably pointed out to the waiter all the shortcomings that prevented this dish of leaves from complying with the usual specifications. It was twenty minutes before the man appeared again. He informed us that their own kitchen had no olive oil in stock, but they had managed to borrow some from the neighbours. Furthermore, the salad still remained conspicuously non-empirical.When we left, I promised Alan a proper Caesar salad the next time we met in Amsterdam. That was not, alas, to be. Perhaps one day, when we meet again, singing Hallelujah in harmony on a damp cloud, Alan.Ben Bos, Amsterdam, 2006


Essay taken from 'AGI: Graphic Design Since 1950' by Ben & Elly Bos